Taking the Pressure Off – How Employers Can Reduce Employee Stress

Taking the Pressure Off – How Employers Can Reduce Employee Stress

Workplace Stress: An Epidemic

In our previous blog, we talked about how employees can help themselves combat stress at work. But what about team leaders, supervisors, managers, HR, and leadership? What role should employers play in promoting employee mental health and personal wellness? How can organizations help their people cope with stressors inherent to the workplace? And why should an organization care in the first place?

According to a survey by Korn Ferry, 76% of managers say stress at work had a negative impact on their relationships, and 66% say they lost sleep due to work stress. Further, a Deloitte study found that many companies may not be doing enough to minimize burnout. Nearly 70% of those surveyed feel their employers aren’t doing enough to help them manage stress. Chronic stress can lead to a variety of physical and mental health issues among employees. Absenteeism, reduced productivity, and increased healthcare costs are just a few of the ways mental health issues cost employers money. A lot of money. According to the Center for Prevention and Health, mental illness and substance abuse cost American business between $79 billion and $105 billion each year!

Yet, in many organizations, talking about stress and mental health remains taboo. Managers aren’t trained to recognize the signs of stress in their employees. Employees fear to have conversations about job-related anxiety and work-life balance because they don’t want to be seen as someone who cracks under pressure.

Here’s How You Can Help

Unacknowledged or untreated stress leads to a cycle of burnout and disengagement that managers and leadership can help prevent by taking these six actions:

  1. Recognize the signs. Do you know the signs of chronic stress and burnout? Can you tell when one of your employees (or yourself) is on edge? Even if they don’t express their agitation in words, you may notice that they’ve become unusually irritable, started to miss work more often, or their performance is suffering.
  2. Talk about it. Creating an open environment where employees feel comfortable talking about stress and mental health is one of the best things an organization and individual managers can do to create a more positive work environment. Use one-on-one check-ins to discuss work-life balance and general concerns. Be open about your own experiences with workplace stress. Encourage your staff to take care of their physical and mental health, just like you would a friend or family member.
  3. Audit the work environment. A common source of stress in the workplace is the physical office environment. Take a look around and see if you notice anything that could be a stressor. For example, can you change the office lighting from harsh fluorescents to cozy lamps? What about moving your introverted copywriter’s desk away from the gregarious salesperson, so he or she can focus on creative work? These changes don’t have to be significant or drain your budget. Small adjustments can have a major impact on staff morale!
  4. Offer flexibility. For many employees, work isn’t their only source of stress. They may have young kids at home, elderly relatives to care for, personal health issues, financial problems, or any number of other things on their minds. While it’s important to hold employees accountable, it’s also important to be humane. Traditional thinking about productivity imagines that all employees do their best work in the office or another worksite, tethered to a desk, computer, or phone, and keeping traditional work hours. But this simply isn’t true in today’s work environment. According to a University of Minnesota study, companies that allow for remote work and flexible schedules are more likely to retain employees and attract new talent.
  5. Model taking breaks and having healthy boundaries. Young employees are often told never to arrive later or leave earlier than their boss. People naturally take cues from their leaders when it comes to managing stress and maintaining a positive attitude toward work. Further, according to a Gallup research report, individual team members who said they experienced a sense of well-being at work were 20% more likely to have other team members who also reported less stress and better health six months later. So, be intentional and explicit about when you expect employees to be engaged in work and when not to be engaged (like during lunch breaks or on weekends).
  6. Provide resources. Managers and HR departments can be a great resource to help employees cope with job pressures and reduce potential burnout. If available, use your organization’s employee assistance program or formal wellness initiative and seminars or training about self-care and stress-management. Further, provide opportunities for employees to give feedback about their job experiences, or coming up with ways for staff to bond socially and get away from their desks.

In Conclusion

We all experience stress at work. While no employer can eliminate stress, managers and other leaders can take steps to make their employees’ lives a little easier and benefit the business in the long term.

Larry Bograd is Senior Director, Product Development at Syntrio, Inc. He is a twenty-year veteran of the training industry, serving as a learning consultant, director of content strategy, senior instructional designer, and scriptwriter. At Syntrio, he directs its Business Skills Library. He may be reached at lbograd@syntrio.com.

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